Wave to Saturn at special astronomy event
Cornell astronomers will be on hand when Ithaca’s Sciencenter celebrates a historic photo opportunity – courtesy of NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.
Cassini, now exploring Saturn, will take a picture of our home planet from a distance of hundreds of millions of miles at 5:30 p.m. Friday, July 19. The public is invited to join in this free event, which begins at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the Sciencenter, 601 1st St. Scientists from Cornell’s Center for Radio Physics and Space Research and the Department of Astronomy will share info about the mission.
Unlike two previous Cassini eclipse mosaics of the Saturn system – one in 2006, which captured Earth, and another in 2012 – the July 19 image will be the first to capture the Earth in natural color, as human eyes at Saturn would see it. It also will be the first to capture Earth and its moon with Cassini’s highest-resolution camera.
Earth will appear as a small, pale blue dot between the rings of Saturn in the image, but the symbolic importance of the occasion is not lost on Cornell astronomers. “This is a unique opportunity to see our home planet in the context of its vast surroundings, and to contemplate our place in the universe,” said Matt Tiscareno, a Cassini science team member at Cornell’s Center for Radiophysics and Space Research (CRSR).
The images have an important scientific purpose. “Looking back towards the sun through the rings highlights the tiniest of ring particles, whose width is comparable to the thickness of hair and which are difficult to see from ground-based telescopes,” said Matt Hedman, also a Cassini science team member at Cornell’s CRSR, who was involved in planning the imaging sequence. “We’re particularly interested in seeing the structures within Saturn’s dusty E ring, which is sculpted by the activity of the geysers on the moon Enceladus, Saturn’s magnetic field and even solar radiation pressure.”
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Launched in 1997, Cassini entered Saturn orbit in 2004. Its mission is planned to conclude in 2017, after it has observed a half-cycle of Saturn’s seasons. The Cassini imaging team consists of scientists from the United States (including at Cornell’s CRSR), the United Kingdom, France and Germany.